Mocha Dick was a notorious male sperm whale that lived in the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century, usually encountered in the waters near the island of Mocha, off southern Chile. American explorer and author Jeremiah N. Reynolds published his account, "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal" in 1839 in The Knickerbocker. Mocha Dick was an albino, and was an inspiration for Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick.
Mocha Dick survived many skirmishes (by some accounts at least 100) with whalers before he was eventually killed. He was large and powerful, capable of wrecking small craft with his flukes. Explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds gathered first-hand observations of Mocha Dick and published his account, "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal", in the May 1839 issue of The Knickerbocker, describing the whale as "an old bull whale, of prodigious size and strength... white as wool. According to Reynolds, the whale's head was covered with barnacles, which gave him a rugged appearance. The whale also had a peculiar method of spouting:
- Instead of projecting his spout obliquely forward, and puffing with a short, convulsive effort, accompanied by a snorting noise, as usual with his species, he flung the water from his nose in a lofty, perpendicular, expanded volume, at regular and somewhat distant intervals; its expulsion producing a continuous roar, like that of vapor struggling from the safety valve of a powerful steam engine.
Mocha Dick was most likely first encountered and attacked sometime before 1810 off Mocha Island. His survival of the first encounters coupled with his unusual appearance quickly made him famous among Nantucket whalers. Many captains attempted to hunt him after rounding Cape Horn. He was quite docile, sometimes swimming alongside the ship, but once attacked he retaliated with ferocity and cunning, and was widely feared by harpooners. When agitated he would sound and then breach so aggressively that his entire body would sometimes come completely out of the water.
In Reynolds' account, Mocha Dick was killed in 1838, after he appeared to come to the aid of a distraught cow whose calf had just been slain by the whalers. His body was 70 feet long and yielded 100 barrels of oil, along with some ambergris—a substance used in the making of perfumes and at times worth more per ounce than gold. He also had nineteen harpoons in his body.
Mocha Dick was not, apparently, the only white whale in the sea. A Swedish whaler claimed to have taken a very old white whale off the coast of Brazil in 1859. In 1902 whalers harpooned and killed an albino sperm whale near the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean, using a harpoon tipped with an explosive device. The whale was reported to be 90 feet long, covered with scars from many previous unsuccessful attempts to take it; it was estimated to be 100 years old. The whale rendered 80 barrels of oil plus an unreported quantity of ambergris.
In 1952, Time Magazine reported the harpooning of a white whale off the coast of Peru. Since 1991, there have been sightings reported of a white humpback whale near Australia, nicknamed Migaloo. In 2012, a white humpback, nicknamed Willow the White Whale, was filmed off the coast of Norway.
- Delbanco, Andrew. Melville, His World and Work. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005: 167–168. ISBN 0-375-40314-0
- Delbanco, Andrew. Melville, His World and Work. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005: 167. ISBN 0-375-40314-0
- J. N. Reynolds
- "Mocha Dick" article from January 1839 issue of The Knickerbocker
- Whipple, A. B. C. Whalers in the South Pacific. Doubleday, 1954: 66
- Whipple, A. B. C. Whalers in the South Pacific. Doubleday, 1954: 72
- "Was There a Real Moby Dick?" Was There a Real Moby Dick? New Bedford Whaling Museum, n.d. Web. 13 May 2015. <http://www.whalingmuseum.org/learn/real-moby-dick>
- Time Magazine article
- J. N. Reynolds. "Mocha Dick: or the White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal," The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine. Vol. 13, No. 5, May 1839, pp. 377-392.
- Almy, Robert F. "J. N. Reynolds: A Brief Biography with Particular Reference to Poe and Symmes." The Colophon, 2 (1937): 227–245
- Howe, Henry. "The Romantic History of Jeremiah N. Reynolds." Historical Collections of Ohio, vol 2. Cincinnati, 1889.
- J.N. Reynolds: "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific"
- Moby Dick - Mocha Dick - Article
- whale collision with ships
- Rogers, Ben. From Mocha Dick to Moby Dick: Fishing for Clues to Moby's Name and Color. Names: A Journal of Onamastics, Vol. 46, No. 4, Dec. 1988, pp. 263-276.